The Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes was appointed by President Grover Cleveland in 1893 to negotiate land with the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole tribes. It is commonly called the Dawes Commission, after its chairman, Henry L. Dawes.
Tribe members were entitled to an allotment of land, in return for abolishing their tribal governments and recognizing Federal laws. In order to receive the land, individual tribal members first had to apply and be deemed eligible by the Commission.
The first application process for enrollment began in 1896, but was declared invalid. So the Dawes Commission started all over again in 1898. People had to re-apply in order to be considered, even if they had already applied in 1896.
The resulting lists of those who were accepted as eligible became known as the Dawes Rolls. Their formal name is the "Final Rolls of the Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory". The Commission accepted applications from 1898 until 1907, with a few additional people accepted by an Act of Congress in 1914.
Why Search the Dawes Rolls?
The Dawes Rolls, also known as the "Final Rolls", are the lists of individuals who were accepted as eligible for tribal membership in the "Five Civilized Tribes": Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles. (It does not include those whose applications were stricken, rejected or judged as doubtful.) Those found eligible for the Final Rolls were entitled to an allotment of land, usually as a homestead.
The Rolls contain more than 101,000 names from 1898-1914 (primarily from 1899-1906). They can be searched to discover the enrollee's name, sex, blood degree, and census card number. The census card may provide additional genealogical information, and may also contain references to earlier rolls, such as the 1880 Cherokee census.
A census card was generally accompanied by an "application jacket". The jackets then sometimes contain valuable supporting documentation, such as birth and death affidavits, marriage licenses, and correspondence.
Today these five tribes continue to use the Dawes Rolls as the basis for determining tribal membership. They usually require applicants to provide proof of descent from a person who is listed on these rolls. (Contact the tribes directly for enrollment information).
Details may be found at the NARA site, http://www.archives.gov/research_room/genealogy/dawes/main.html.